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Health & Baby

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4 in 10 Babies Given Solid Foods Too Early: Study

Hunger, inability to sleep through the night often cited as reasons


Scanlon said that mothers who formula-fed their babies were more likely to report having a health care provider tell them that solid foods before 4 months were OK.

That suggests that there's a real need for doctors and other health care providers "to provide accurate and clear information," Scanlon said. These experts "can help parents better understand their babies' cues for feeding," she said. "A baby who's crying a lot isn't always hungry."

The researchers also found that mothers who introduced solid foods earlier were more likely to be younger, unmarried, have less education and be participating in government food programs for women, infants and children.

Dr. Ruby Roy, an attending physician at La Rabida Children's Hospital in Chicago, said she wasn't surprised by the study's findings. "A lot of these parents say that at 3 months, their children are more hungry. And, that's true. There's usually a growth spurt at 3 months, so increasing breast-feeding or the amount of formula is appropriate," said Roy.

Roy said she doesn't tell parents to wait for a specific age, but rather to look for signs that the baby is ready for solid foods. "Some children will be ready at 6 months, while others are fine at 5 months and 2 weeks, so instead of an absolute rule, I explain that they're waiting for the baby to be ready," she said.

According to Roy, babies aren't ready for solids until they can sit up by themselves when they're well-supported and when they've lost what's known as the "tongue thrust" reflex. If you try to feed your baby solid foods on a spoon and your baby pushes the food out with his or her tongue, your baby isn't ready for solids yet, Roy said.

Roy and Scanlon agreed that parents shouldn't try to work around this reflex by adding baby cereal to bottles.

"Solid foods are not intrinsically better or more calorically dense than breast milk or formula," said Roy. And she added, "Solid foods can harm kids when started too early."

Results of the study were released online March 25 in advance of publication in the April print issue of Pediatrics.

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